On August 24th, 2011, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs resigned his position as CEO. A short time later, Apple’s board of directors named Mr. Jobs chairman and promoted Tim Cook to CEO. Mr. Jobs’s reign as chairman was short—he passed away just 42 days later, but it’s been a full year for Mr. Cook’s tenure at the top.
It’s been an interesting year for Apple, a year of ups and downs, but mostly ups. It’s also been a year where many have predicted that Apple will coast into mediocrity without a visionary like Steve Jobs in charge of the company, even while Wall Street has propelled the stock up 81.7 percent higher.
Apple CEO Tim Cook Has Plenty of Reason to Smile
The stock opened at $365.08 the morning after Mr. Cook took over, and it closed August 24th, 2012, at $663.222, a gain of $298.142 per share. That year also included a record closing high of $668.87, set on August 22nd, 2012, and a record market cap of $627.7 billion (see our coverage from August 20th on market cap as measured in absolute terms and when taking inflation into account).
So even while some question Mr. Cook’s ability to lead a company like Apple, investors have given that leadership their seal of approval by pumping their dollars into the company’s stock.
The year also saw Apple initiating a dividend and a $10 billion stock buyback program, and the company grew its cash from $76.2 billion at the end of the June quarter in 2011 to $117.2 billion at the end of the June quarter of 2012.
I mean, come on! That’s just insane. Heck, Apple is a $120 billion per year (plus) company now. That’s insanely great.
Apple also released the iPhone 4S and the fabulously successful new iPad (iPad 3). the company released new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models, as well as the introduction of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Whither new iMacs and Mac Pros? Mr. Cook told us—he actually told us—that they’ll be coming 2013.
To power the new devices that were released, the company shipped OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and iOS 5, while iOS 6 is a few weeks away. Apple also launched an extraordinary new cloud initiative called iCloud, shuttering MobileMe in the process, while somehow making the transition relatively smooth.
Little Trouble in Big China Factories
Another issue that has garnered Apple some media attention is labor conditions in the company’s factories. I say the company’s factories, but we’re talking about the factories owned by the third-party companies that Apple outsources its manufacturing operations to.
This has been an interesting aspect of Apple’s large corporate shadow. On the one hand, it seems likely that Apple has done more to promote safe working conditions in its supply chain than any other large U.S. electronics or computer company. Apple and CEO Tim Cook have consistently not been given credit for this by any of the labor rights and other activist groups that have shined a spotlight on the issue.
On the other hand, that’s because working in factories in China mostly sucks. That’s why so many manufacturing jobs have moved to China in the first place. Workers in China are generally-speaking working to work long hours for pay that wouldn’t keep someone in the West fed, let alone clothed, housed, and transported, and most of the time that works just fine for consumers in that same West because they want moar moar moar for less less less.
So, Apple does more than any other company to improve conditions, but because the company makes money hand over fist and because working conditions are hard, the company’s critics have worked themselves into a frenzy over the issue.
Mr. Cook has handled this by joining the Fair Labor Association, which is either a tough, independent labor auditing group that performs exhaustive monitoring of factories or a lightweight shill group that offers a phony façade behind which its paying members hide their nefarious doings. It depends on who you ask.
He has also initiated pay increases for those workers several times in the last year, and stressed publicly his commitment to having safe working conditions throughout the company’s supply chain.
In the meanwhile, all of Apple’s competitors use the same factories and nobody seems to be interested in their working conditions, but that’s what happens when your company is the world’s most valuable corporation.
One More Thing…
Oh yeah, and there’s that little thing about patents. As I am finishing this piece up, we’re waiting for the verdict in Apple’s epic battle with Samsung. This was a battle that Mr. Cook inherited from Steve Jobs, who famously swore that he’d wage thermonuclear war on Google’s Android and its OEMs for ripping off iOS.
Mr. Cook was more elegant with his take on the situation, saying several times (in one way or another) that, “It’s important that Apple not become the developer for the world. We need people to invent their own stuff.”
Apple has won a few and lost a few in court rooms and regulatory agencies around the world, but the wider battle is still being fought. Friday’s Samsung verdict, however, is likely to set the stage. It seems likely that in the next 12-18 months Mr. Cook will be able to put these patent battles between Apple and the Android world behind him.
Back to the Future
Tim Cook’s first year has been fabulously successful, but the reality is that he’s still in Steve Jobs’s shadow, whether or not that’s fair. For the company’s new products, successes have been and will continue to be credited to Mr. Jobs to one degree or another. If there’s a failure, however, that will be landed in Mr. Cook’s lap, whether or not Steve Jobs was working on it before his death.
As time marches on, however, we will get the opportunity to see what Mr. Cook can do on his own. Maybe, just maybe, even as soon as the iPad mini, seeing as how Steve Jobs said that 7 inches was too small for a tablet. Even though Mr. Jobs was obfuscating as only he could do, it seems likely that that Mr. Cook will get more credit for that device than anything released to date.
Time will tell.